| Bhim Singh
New Delhi, Nov. 1: “Yes, I was offered a contract for 7.3 million barrels of oil by Iraq under the oil-for-food programme,” proclaims Bhim Singh, the chairman of the J&K Panthers Party, at a time when the Congress and external affairs minister Natwar Singh have denied any link with the scam.
“Just as they tried to help me, the Iraqis told me that they were helping other Indian friends also,” Bhim Singh said.
Did he ask them who these friends were' “No, I did not. It did not bother me,” he said.
Bhim Singh is listed as a “non-contractual beneficiary” in the Paul Volcker report inquiring into kickbacks in the oil-for-food programme. However, it notes there was “no contracting company per SOMO (State Oil Marketing Organisation)” against Bhim Singh’s name.
In other words, Bhim Singh did not sell the oil vouchers offered to him. Had he “sponsored” the contract through a company, he would have got a commission for each barrel lifted.
“I could have made my millions and retired,” he laughs.
Why had he refused such a sweet deal' He reacted with a chuckle and recounted an interesting story, perhaps somewhat embellished.
Bhim Singh says he was offered the contract in 2001 after he had gone to Baghdad for the meeting of the Iraq sponsored Co-ordination Committee Against Economic Sanctions. “The foreign minister of Lebanon, Pakistan’s former army chief General (Retd.) Mirza Aslam Beg and Mr George Galloway, British Labour MP, were part of the committee,” he recalled.
Galloway, incidentally, has also been named by the Volcker committee as a beneficiary of the oil-for-food programme.
Bhim Singh had spent two months at Baghdad University and produced Iraq ' A Heroic Resistance published by Har Anand in Delhi.
“I was then invited by Tariq Aziz, the deputy Prime Minister, to Iraq for the meeting of the Co-ordination Committee Against Economic Sanctions. He released my book and I presented a copy to Saddam Hussein,” he said.
“Then one day, officials sent by Rolf Ekeus, then chairman of the UN team on WMDs in Iraq, came to see me. They said a recommendation had come from the Iraq government that I be allotted oil quota under the oil-for-food programme,” Bhim Singh recalled.
He was told that he only had to sign the contract and they had contractors and companies ready who would pick up the oil.
“I told them to leave the contract with me overnight. It was not an easy decision. I sweated the whole night. I dreamt of my father who fought with the Indian National Army of Subhas Chandra Bose. I dreamt of my ancestor General Zorawar Singh who conquered Ladakh. I felt history would curse me if I accepted. I had also read about what happens to commission agents.
“By morning, I had made up my mind. I thank my ancestors for guiding me in the right direction,” Bhim Singh said.
The next morning, Bhim Singh said, he gave the contract back to Tariq Aziz with a note on the file saying: “My love for Iraq cannot be bartered away for material gains.”